Independent Bliss

For some, there comes a point in your life when you are blissfully happy with who you are and where you are at in this journey. This bliss is independent of people, significant others, children, work or environment: as in, none of the mentioned affect your happiness and relationship with the self.

You might not be where you thought you’d be, but you realize you are enamored with this leg of your journey. Every move seems beautiful, even if it isn’t the right one. Not everyone gets to experience this, and sometimes you have to work towards this bliss. And sometimes it comes after extreme heartache, struggles or a downfall. I believe you might even have to hit rock bottom to know it.

But when you do…when you can sit in a room and stare at the ceiling and be content with the life you live, you’ve reached it. You’re there. You know you have arrived and you are capable of reaching your goals and experiencing life fully. You are whole.

That’s my two cents.

Traffic Makes Me Panicky

Coming home from a meeting and Trader Joe’s last night, I found this beauty down by the garbage bins.

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Anybody need a bathtub?

On an unrelated note, I am starting to go crazy with my daily commute.  Apparently the average one-way commute time for a person living in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) area is 45 minutes.  Mine has become 40 minutes to work in the morning, and, on a good day, 1 hour in the afternoon.  Before I moved to Arlington and was living in Vienna, the commute was around 25 minutes in the morning and about 45 minutes in the afternoon, but I was tired of living in suburbia.  Everyone is like, “Why don’t you move closer to work?”  I reply, frustratedly, “I didn’t move to DC to live on the outskirts of the city…I could have stayed in Richmond and done that!”  And also, this is a temp job, why on earth would I move, sign a lease (or whatever) to work a temp job?  People, come on now.  And it’s not even the distance, it’s the gridlock that I honestly hate.  Stop. Go. Stop. Go. STOP.  Like yesterday, it took me 1.5 hours to get from Chantilly to Clarendon for a volunteer meeting I went to after work.  I was almost late.   That should be like, a 30 minute drive without traffic, max.  It is sucking the life out of me.  We don’t have to worry about the zombie apocolypse sucking the life out of us, we already have that, it’s called traffic in Northern Virginia.

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This is not fun.

I am trying so incredibly hard not to make this one of those “my life sucks…poor me” blogs, but traffic gives me a lot of anxiety.  I get up in the morning and am already depressed because I know the commutes I am about to face for the day.  I thought I had experienced bad traffic around Richmond in rush hour.  Um no.  The “traffic” in Richmond is like the normally moving traffic for this area.  I think this factors into my “control” anxiety I have about certain things.  I hate gridlock; I feel stuck and panicky.  I seriously don’t know how much more of my daily commute I can take…it is literally turning me into a zombie.  I miss walking to work 😦

If anybody deals with a similar commute, how do you put up with it?!

Happy Commuting! Naht.

I promise the next post will be all puppies and unicorns and mason jars.

Just needed to vent.

A Beautiful View!

This is my last Gaudí-Barcelona related post about Park Güell.  If you haven’t already, check out what I have to say about Casa Batlló and Sagrada Família!

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View from the park on a pretty Fall day!

Park Güell is located outside of the city center, on the hill of El Carmel in the Gràcia district.  You walk a few blocks on flat road when you get off the metro and then a few blocks straight up hill.  Definitely wear comfortable shoes, because it’s quite a trek up a very steep hill, not to mention that there’s lots of walking to be done in the park.

All the directions I read in advance said to look for the street signs which point to the park, and I did this, but got a little confused at one intersection and ended up walking up the wrong hill.  Ah, my lovely sense of direction – where I get the “I think I’m going in the wrong direction feeling…but just maybe it’s ahead” I should listen to my initial instinct.  Anyways, I got to see some side streets and walked up a very, very steep hill before realizing this wasn’t the right way.  I made it back to the main road and found the correct sign – not really sure how I could have missed it, but at least  I realized my error before I got turned around too much.

Once I got back on the main street and found the directional sign, I started walking and knew I was in the right direction because there were more people who seemed to be going in the same direction.

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Entrance sign

What’s great about this place is that a visit to Park Güell is free!  I went on weekend on a really pretty fall day, and there were a lot of people walking around, relaxing on the benches, kids running around and playing soccer.  You could tell there were many tourists, but it seems like locals come here too.  I was also impressed by the amount of runners around the park!

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Field where kids were playing soccer

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Pretty mosaic benches – relax here after your trek uphill

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Mosaic lizzard

The entrance to the park is pretty crowded because this is where most of Gaudí’s mosaic art is, but as you keep climbing upwards, people start to space out.  There were also entertainers along the way from a string quartet, to a band, to a group singing Beatles songs.  Vendors selling handmade jewelry and souvenirs line the path upwards too.

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Musicians around the park

If you keep walking upwards, which I did, you’ll find a variety of paths.  I took the one that went to an awesome summit with stunning views of Barcelona.  I ended up lingering here for a while, but it was quite chilly because of the elevation.  After being at Park Güell for around two hours, I left and made my way back to city center before the sun went down.

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Me and Barcelona

I’m so grateful for the chance to see Gaudí’s works in BCN.  Seeing Gaudí’s works was high on my bucket list and it was amazing to see these amazing, iconographic sites as a young adult.

So a question for my readers! What places/historic sites have you been to that have been on your travel bucket list?  What are some of the places you still have yet to get to?

Happy Traveling!

Side Note:  I’ll hopefully be able to compose a few more posts about my Barcelona experience, and, of course, I still need to tell you all about Rome.  I really am sorry for these sporadic travel posts done after the fact.  In my future travels and life experiences, I hope to update more frequently!

Work in Progress

I woke up to a gorgeous blue November sky on my last day of leg numero uno in BCN.  Let’s note here that I did not wake up early, no, in fact, I actually slept in until 10 AM and then took my time getting ready because I had no schedule, no deadlines – my only plan for the day was to visit Gaudí’s La Sagrada Família.

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La Sagrada Família – Doesn’t it look like a giant sandcastle? Also, I don’t know why the sky is yellow.  It really was blue!

To get to La Sagrada Família, you can take metro L5 (it’s the blue line on the map) to the “Sagrada Família” stop.  When you get off the metro, the basilica is right in front of you.  I arrived around 1 PM on a Tuesday in the “off” season (early November) and the line for tickets was about a 15-20 minute wait.  Like most of the Gaudí sights, you can book tickets in advance and print them off on these ATM/ticket vending machines that are located on almost every block in the city.  One of the things that sucks about traveling alone is when you have to wait in line by yourself for tickets.  Even more suck points in a foreign country because I didn’t have the ability to use my cell phone.  This is my fault, because even though it was an unlocked iPhone, lazy me didn’t feel like figuring out buy a SIM card.  In retrospect, I probably would get a SIM card the next time I travel abroad, especially alone.

Gaudí's Artistry on the Facade

Gaudí’s Artistry on the Facade

Waiting in line alone without electronic distractions can also be interesting because you get the chance to observe people.  Such as the Asian tourists with the chubby little boy who were speaking a mix of some Asian language and English.  And all they were talking about was food and being full.  I don’t know, I was interested.

Anyways, I bought my ticket with my student ID discount!  There are a few options like basilica entry only, basilica entry with audio guide and tickets for assigned times to take the lift up the towers.  Just fyi, tower trips are weather permitting and run on the hour-ish.  I opted for all the things which cost me 17 euros (it’s 20 euros with an adult admission) – basilica entry, audio guide and the trip to the towers.

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On the main entrance there are modernist statutes depicting the life of Jesus – here’s a diagram!

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One on the Jesus’ life statues – The Crucifixion

Once you enter the basilica, you’re free to roam around, go to the audio tour stations or sit down and contemplate things.  You can also make your way to the basement museum and see some of Gaudí’s original plans for La Sagrada Família, pictures of it when construction began and other works by Gaudí.  I found the pictures of the basilica in the 1900s really interesting because at that time there were not any buildings around the site.  It was just a bunch of land.  Over the years, BCN was built up around this giant church.

Me standing in the nave!

Standing in the Central Nave

Pretty stained glass in the nave

Stained Glass in the Nave

Giant Organ!

Giant Organ!

Does anyone know what these weird zodiac looking images are in the basilica? I forget...

Does anyone know what these weird zodiac looking images are in the basilica? I forget…

Another thing that’s really interesting about La Sagrada Família is that it’s still under big time construction and not expected to be complete until 2028.  When Gaudí passed away in 1926 (he was hit by a tram, did you know that!?), construction was only 15-20 percent complete.  In 2000, the central nave was completed and an organ was added in 2010 (so says Wikipedia).  These additions meant the basilica could finally have religious services.  When you enter, you’ll see scaffolding and crane lifts, empty windows where stained glass will eventually  be laid and uncompleted areas.  Construction workers walk around in neon vests (some passed by me and were very smelly, might I add).

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A Work in Progress – Modernist & Modern

I took my time in the basilica; I listening to the audio guide, walked around and looked at the altar and organ, and reveled over the modernist sculptures on the facade of the basilica…something was so magical and awe-inspiring about just being in this awesome work in my own time and having a personal experience.  I’m not a huge believer in organized religion as in, I don’t like being told what to believe and how I should act, more importantly, I don’t like told what I’m doing wrong.  But I am religious and while I’m Christian, also believe many other world religions have great teachings we should also embrace.  I have my own relationship with a higher power and I’m leaving it at that.  But I am inspired by the intense devotion to God that is represented in Gaudí’s creation of La Sagrada Família.

The Alter - More Images of the Crucifixion

The Altar

As I noted earlier, I purchased a ticket to the basilica towers.

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Beautiful View of BCN from Towers

The towers were quite possibly the best part of the visit.  You enter at your assigned time at the appropriate tower lift (it will be noted on your ticket) and are hurried up in these small little “I’m claustrophobic” capsules that are supposedly elevators.  You are let off on a small open-air walkway that overlooks BCN, and then continue on into the towers where little windows look out over the city.  You have the opportunity to get a closer glimpse of the artistic tower details as well as a stunning view of BCN.

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Image From the Towers

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Doves & Olive Branches! And Ants on the Ground!

Note that there isn’t a lift “down”, so you’ll be taking small, winding and dizzying stairs.  Maybe not the best idea if you aren’t able to walk well or get claustrophobic.

Overall, I spent around 2 hours at La Sagrada Família, and would recommend visitors devote the same amount of time in the basilica, admiring the facade and visiting the basement museum.  I might have spent more time, but I got hungry.  Food always wins in my book.

So this is how I like to travel.  Let me interpret and digest things at my own speed – let me have an experience.  I don’t like to be hurried from site to site, with a guide who shares his own narrative of a particular location.  Let me take it all in, in the moment.  Especially at churches.  I know there is a lot of history to many significant places of worship, but shouldn’t we take the time to admire them for what they really are – places of reflection, contemplation and worship.  That’s just me.  I also understand the importance of schedules and guided tours, especially when one might not want to miss out.  Tour groups can also get you into a location normally “off limits” to the public or do the organizing when people don’t have time to plan and read about what they want to see on a trip.  This is fine.  But I get much more out of traveling on my own terms.

Happy Traveling!

FishBones – Gaudí’s Casa Batlló

At the end of every post, I’ll be noting the artist/song/playlist/Spotify radio station (check out Spotify if you haven’t!) that I’ve listened to while composing my post.  Maybe it can inspire you as well!

My decision to go to BCN was heavily influenced by the works of an extremely eclectic Catalan artist, Antoni Gaudí.  This was his city and he is noted for modernist works like Casa Batlló, La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell.

I first learned about Gaudí in high school Spanish class, and for some unexplainable reason, I really appreciated his quirky art and architecture.  Possibly because I’m a quirky gal myself?  I really respect him for doing things “different”.  I also think it’s interesting that La Sagrada Familia, conceived and started over 100 years ago, is still a work in progress and visitors can actually witness the progress and construction that goes on today.  I hope to dedicate an individual post about my experiences at three of Gaudí’s works – Casa Batlló, La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell.

Here goes Post #1:

Casa Batlló (House of Bones) – 43, Passeig de Gràcia

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Casa Batlló at night

I think one of the reasons I connect with Casa Batlló is because I grew up watching Casper: The Friendly Ghost.  I’m pretty sure I watched this VHS tape on repeat because I was one of those kids.  If you’ve ever seen this children’s movie, you might remember that the “haunted house” actually has similarities Gaudí’s modernist style from the way the rooms have a curvy feel to the stained glass.  Anyways, I thought that was the coolest house before I even learned about Gaudí!

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Quirky doorway in Casa Batlló

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The foyer staircase – supposed to look like the spine of a fishy!

If you go to Casa Batlló, which was constructed in 1877 for the Batlló family, you’ll learn that Gaudí’s inspiration was the sea and nature.  The “bones”, which you can see on the balcony railings, are actually reminiscent of fish bones.  When you venture to the roof, you’ll find the mosaic tiles on the roof resemble the scales of some reptilian creature.

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Venture to the roof – not only will you get to see the mosaic reptile, but you’ll get a great view of Passeig de Gràcia

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Don’t you just feel like you’re in the sea?

The house avoids use of straight lines, and there’s a lot of emphasis placed on organic elements.  Since I’m not an art expert, and I don’t really remember everything the audio tour said, you should probably visit the Casa Batlló website if you want more (accurate) information.  Or hey, just visit!

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The Batlló Family

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Lights!

Tickets can be purchased in advance through the Casa Batlló website and then printed off on these ATM/Ticket Vending Machine things that are located all throughout BCN.  Apparently the line can get pretty long, especially in peak season, so I’d suggest looking into booking them in advance if you’re traveling in the late-Spring/Summer/early-Fall.  Since I went in the semi-off season, I went around 4 pm and waited about 15 minutes to purchase a ticket.  After you purchase the ticket, there is immediate entry.

If you’re an adult, tickets cost 20.35 euro, but I’m still technically a “student” in the fact that I still have my student ID and take full advantage of student privileges.  It will be a sad, sad day when/if I lose my student ID.  I ended up paying 16.30 euro for admission.  Just fyi, Casa Batlló takes credit cards.

I’d really recommend visiting Casa Batlló if you’re ever in BCN.  I enjoyed that I was able to move through the house at my own pace with my audio tour and appreciate it all in my own time.  One of the perks of traveling alone – you get to do things at your own speed!  Casa Batlló, and Gaudí’s works in general, were some of my bucket list – things I wanted to see – so you can imagine my excitement and happiness about crossing these magnificent works off the list!

Happy Traveling!

Currently Listening: Imagine Dragons – Continued Silence EP

Public Transportation in Barcelona

A note on public transportation in BCN – if you plan to use the metro, which I highly advise because trains go almost everywhere and run in very precise intervals of about 3 minutes (Dear DC metro, why can’t you be this efficient), get a T-10 fare card.  The T-10 cost 9.45 euros when I visited in November ’12 and allows you 10 trips (including transfers) on the metro, buses and trams to any destination, including the train that runs from the airport to city center.  I believe there is a window of time to transfer from the metro to a bus or tram and vice versa.  A one-way trip on the metro is 2 euros.  You do the math.

The BCN public transportation system, or Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona, also has unlimited daily travel passes, but the T-1o is really the best buy if you’re going to be there a week-ish like me.  It even tells you on the back on the card how many trips you have taken.  One thing I feel I should note, especially because I depend on my credit card for everything – many travel sites say the metro station fare vending machines take “card” and cash.  This is partly accurate.  They actually do not take credit cards, only debit/bank cards/cards requiring a PIN.  I was really stressed by this because I had forgotten my debit card, but thankfully I had enough euros to purchase a T-10 fare card!

The Getting There

The getting to Barcelona was, well, interesting.

I should start off by saying that I was offered a temporary job in the DC area about two weeks before I was scheduled to leave.  I had been applying to jobs for about four months and hadn’t had much luck, so when this opportunity came up, I needed to take it.  Being unemployed/being poor was getting to me.

So in the midst of getting ready for a trip, I also had to prepare to move up to Northern Virginia.  Luckily, my friend and her boyfriend generously offered me their spare guest room to stay in until I found a place of my own.  I ended up starting with my company at the end of October, trained and worked for a few days, and then set off for Europe…

Which was really stressful.  So I packed what clothing I had thrown in the back of the Jetta in my rather large backpack.  Note: Tiny people have problems with big backpacks.  Laws of gravity.

When I got on the plane, I left work where it was, left life in the States as it was, left all the things I was thinking about and dealing with in my head back home, and set off on an adventure that could have been more planned.

Well a good adventure should start out with a few drinks, right?  False.  I had about 4 glasses of wine on the plane, fell asleep, and when I woke up from my stupor, was really, really nauseous to the point of needing an airsick bag upon descent into Heathrow where my flight connected.  As a disclaimer, 4 glasses of wine over a 6 hour period, with food, might I add, usually doesn’t make me sick.  And I don’t usually get nauseous from being on airplanes!  But coupled with sleeping, pressure changes, and plane movements…well you get the idea.  I have problems with motion sickness and vertigo, and I didn’t have a feeling of being sick from drinking, but felt more like I had a stomach virus.  Luckily there was a nice old man who held the airsick bag for me…

Thankfully, the connecting flight was just a few gates away, but the flight from Heathrow to Barcelona was really challenging for someone who was already very, very airsick.  The flight wasn’t full, so I ended up telling a flight attendant I had gotten sick on the flight over and they let me sit in a row in the back near the bathroom.  I had the entire row to myself, and as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign went off, I spread out and dozed off for the entire flight.  But I’m a trooper, and being sick and not having anyone to care for you is a part of life sometimes.  Challenge #1: Accepted and overcome.

When I got to Barcelona around 10 AM, which I’ll refer to as BCN on here, I had planned to catch the train into the city center and then metro to my Airbnb accommodations.  This was only supposed to cost about $2 euros and pretty simple.  But instead, feeling as ill as I did, was able to find a cab that took credit card (thank God) because may I also mention that I only had 20 euros on my person upon arriving in BCN and I also had forgotten my debit card/bank card so I couldn’t get money out either.  Super unprepared for this trip.  The cab ride cost about 26 euros, but it was a welcomed sight when I got to my Airbnb destination and well worth the cost.

155460_4018462911173_90453277_nFor listening to my airsick story, I give you a beautiful view of BCN! 

When I arrived at my small, basic, but clean accommodations, I just wanted to sleep.  In an earlier post, The Logistics of Traveling Alone, I raved about Airbnb and how it’s a great alternative for people looking for no frills travel, but maybe a little more privacy than hostel accommodations.  In BCN I stayed with two people (Lucas & Laura) that I found on Airbnb and who lived on Avenguida de Roma.  I paid somewhere around $26 USD each night, and stayed from November 2 – November 7.  I would recommend that when booking Airbnb lodging, aim for the places with a few reviews and recommendations – at least I feel more comfortable that way.

IMG_1872View from the balcony of my Airbnb Lodging

One fact about European apartments – they are old and many do not have “lifts” (elevators).  In both of the places I stayed in BCN and Rome, I had to hike up multiple flights of stairs.  I like to think I’m in pretty good shape, but I still found myself winded after trips up these stairs, so just a warning to the weary!

Even though there were a few things I had to get used to at my BCN lodging such as the tiny showers, showers that only have hot water for 5 minutes, stairs, being on a loud street in a non-soundproof room, etc., I really enjoyed where I stayed because the location and price couldn’t be beat.  The metro was only two blocks away and I could easily walk to some of the main streets or take the metro to wherever my heart desired.  The room was really clean and my hosts cleaned the bathroom daily.  Also, my room had a lock on the outside, so I could lock my belongings in it when I went out.  I would definitely recommend this Airbnb booking if you are not high maintenance and are used to city street noise and short showers.  Also, my hosts were amazing.  I only really interacted with Lucas, but he spoke fluent English and offered suggestions on where to go and eat.  They also gave me a ton of space, which was really appreciated too!

IMG_1988I’ve already posted this picture in a previous post, but here’s my room and the backpack that wasn’t the best idea and bigger than me!

Sorry for that tangent, but I felt like it was useful info!  Anyways, after I got to my lodging, I slept for around 6 hours.  My entire body was really off and the sleep had some serious healing powers.  I woke up feeling A LOT better, refreshed and ravenous.  But I’m always hungry.  So I ventured out for the first time in a foreign country by myself, found food and beer a few blocks from my lodging (and a place that took credit card – yay!), and then went back to get more sleep so I would be well rested for the week ahead of me.

So if you know me – and if you don’t, I’m now telling you – I’m a really anxious person.  Weirdly anxious.  I get anxious about talking on the phone and merging on the interstate; I hate elevators and won’t get in one without my cell phone.  I’m just now warming up to airplanes.  I wash my hands a lot, but don’t care about eating street food in SE Asia.  So basically, the things I shouldn’t freak out about I do, and the things some people would be terrified of, I am not.  The best way to deal with emotions and anxiety is to figure out what causes it.  I’ve found that I have panic attacks when I feel “trapped” both in the literal and figurative sense.  When I feel like I don’t have any control.  So even though I got sick, even though I was alone without much cash or a debit card (which was kind of stressful), I felt like that was where I was supposed to be.  I felt really at peace with myself, which is something I hadn’t felt in months.  Even now, being back in the US, I get weirdly emotional and anxious about things, and realized that in the past year, the 3 weeks I spent in Europe were some of the least crazed-emotional times.

This just goes to show that not every trip starts off great, setbacks do occur and all doesn’t go according to plan, but you have to overcome things and adjust.  Traveling alone isn’t for everyone – heck, I didn’t know if it would be for me.  This trip was very experimental and it honestly could have been a train wreck.  I could have broken down in Heathrow because I got sick on my flight, could have called my mom bawling as I was having chills and nausea while waiting for the connecting flight and decided I was going to be miserable.  But I didn’t.  I toughened up, got to where I needed to be, recharged and didn’t let a bad beginning ruin the rest of my adventure.  I think it’s moments like this where you really learn how resilient you can be.